adventures of an american housewife in the south of france

Postpartum, The French Way

Ramona's first month has flown by and it's been exciting, awesome, terrifying, challenging and beautiful all at the same time.  Many days have been hard, as expected.  Postpartum hormones were a bitch and caring for a colicky baby with thrush has been no picnic either.  But sweet Ramona is the light of our life and we are learning from her every day.

8 days old

Ramona's schedule is constantly changing, so we're doing our best to implement some sort of routine, especially at night. We've been taking steps that we can repeat each evening to let her know it's bedtime, even if we're not doing them at exactly the same time every night.  Hopefully she'll get the idea soon and start feeling a little bit more comfortable as she gets more sleep!  She prefers to be up and partying from 2am - 10am (taking after her parents!) and we're trying to break her of that habit.  The last two nights have been great - last night she even slept for 6.5 hours straight!! - so we're hoping that she's turned a corner and flipped herself to an appropriate daytime/nighttime schedule.

And geez, I've been trying to get this post written and published for the last 2 weeks!  I've been excited to tell you about our very interesting hospital stay.  Like this whole experience, I don't have a real basis for comparison, but there were  many things that happened to us that I can only assume were very...French.  Because I had a c-section, we stayed in the clinic for 6 days/5 nights.  It was a long stay, but necessary.  My recovery has been long and painful and we were grateful for the extra help before my mom arrived on Day 5.  We had a very nice, private room with a little balcony/window (with a view of the Mediterranean!) and a cot for Michael.  There was a closet where we could hang clothes and store our food, a flat screen TV with hook ups for our computer (to watch movies), adjustable room lighting, a changing station, and a nice big bathroom with a shower.  Not too shabby for an extra 60€/day - our first out of pocket expense this entire pregnancy.

the view from our balcony.

I spent a lot of my time in the hospital crying.  What can I say, along with dealing with the language barrier, the hormones got the best of me.  And it didn't help that every nurse who walked in gave me a concerning look and said, "baby blues?"  I kind of wanted to punch them in the face.  But I got over it and each day things got easier and I felt a little bit better.  By Day 4 I was out of bed and shuffling around and even had a shower.  I was on the up and up.  I really shocked everyone on Day 5 when I got dressed in something other than a nightgown, brushed my hair and put on a little make up.  The nurses didn't even recognize me without the tears streaming down my face. But throughout the whole stay, Michael and I just loved to sit together and marvel at our beautiful daughter.  We were doing our best to figure her out as she did her best to figure out life on the outside.  As first time parents, we had expectations about how we wanted certain things done, but sometimes the nurses had other ideas.  Many of our practices were dismissed as "American" and were duly noted in our charts.  As irritating as it was to constantly battle to do things the way we wanted to, we also found it hilarious.  I would love to get my hands on that file someday, although I wouldn't be able to read anything it says anyway.

Here are a few of the situations we faced with very differing views: Bath Time In the U.S. I think it's pretty standard to wait to fully bathe a baby until the umbilical cord falls off .  Not so here in France.  The nurses at the clinic were very adamant about bathing Ramona EVERY DAY, in a fully submerged bath, from Day One.  Each morning they would come into the room announcing it was bath time.  We had to negotiate for an every other day routine and constantly remind them (much to their dismay) that we would NOT be bathing Ramona every day during her first week of life! Sleeping in Silence The French do not understand white noise.  Supposedly, babies like white noise because the whooshing sound is similar to what they hear in the womb.  And actually, Michael and I like white noise too.  We often use the white noise app on our iPhones when we're trying to fall asleep in an unfamiliar place, so we ran the app each night to help us and Ramona fall asleep.  The nurses did not understand this.  During the night, they'd come in and out of the room to check my vitals and see how we were doing and each time, they would inevitably say, "What is that noise?"  One nurse even told us to turn it off.  Sorry ladies, we're trying not to raise a child who can only sleep in a perfectly quiet night environment.  We'd like our kid to be versatile and able to sleep in a variety of situations.  Plus, Ramona found it soothing and it has become a great signal for her that it's night time. Preparing for the Arctic Michael and I finally solved the mystery of why French people bundle up with coats and scarves the minute the temperature drops below 70 degrees.  From the day they are born, they are taught the art of layering.  They bundle their babies.  These babies are prepared for the frozen tundra.  While skin to skin is encouraged immediately following birth, anytime after that they expect the baby to fully clothed in several layers.  I'm talking a onesie, plus a sleeper, plus a sweater, plus a blanket, and don't you forget the hat and booties.  And keep that heater cranking in the room!  This was especially difficult for us to deal with when we were working to establish feeding and Ramona kept falling asleep.  At the advice of our midwife and friends, we would strip Ramona down to her diaper and put her skin to skin with a light blanket over her during feedings to keep her awake.  Every time a nurse walked into the room and saw us doing this, they would demand we put clothes back on her.  And where was her hat?

1 day old!

What's a Swaddle? But they don't swaddle.  Weird, right?  You'd think that with all of these warm layers, the French would be into swaddling.  Instead, they are just big proponents of the sleep sack.  Here at home we kind of go back and forth between the two, but swaddling was not encouraged during our hospital stay.  We did it anyway. Voulez-vous un Complement? Man, were those nurses pushy with the formula.  Since I had a c-section, my milk did not come in until Day 5.  That was a long 5 days of waiting and was one of the hardest things we dealt with during our stay.  Hence all the crying.  Ramona was hungry and boy was she pissed that her food wasn't ready yet.  She cried.  I cried.  There was a lot of crying.  She lost weight, as newborns do, but the second she hit that 10% weight loss, the nurses were all over us to give her formula.  I was pretty against it.  From everything I'd been taught, the colostrum is typically enough nourishment to sustain the baby until the milk comes.  But by Day 4, Ramona was getting sick and tired of her tiny allotment of food.  It was a very frustrating day and we were very torn about what to do.  I was feeling like a big, epic failure.  The lactation consultants at the clinic meant well, but they fell into one of two categories:  they were either super young women who clearly did not have any kids and had never breastfed before, or they were super old school, grumpy, pushy broads.  In our desperation  we decided to call in our midwife, Mrs. M.  Thank god for her, really.  She came to visit us and offered her counsel.  She gave me some tips to jump start my production and made me feel better about the idea of using a small supplement until my milk came in.  "You're still feeding her all of your own food that you can, you might just need to give her a little topper of formula so that you can all get some rest."  She told us about this little gadget - and I don't know how to spell it, but based on how it's pronounced, I would call it the "System Dahl" - that is like a really long, skinny cocktail straw.  One end goes into the bottle of formula and the other end is taped either to your pinkie finger or your breast.  That way the baby can drink off of your nipple or your finger and not be confused by a bottle.  After much deliberation, we decided to go for it on Day 4.  I fed her as much as a could on my own and then Michael fed her with the System Dahl.  Ramona instantly calmed down and went to sleep.  We all got much better sleep that night and the next day my milk arrived and the formula was gone.  I'm glad we did it. Intense Postpartum Care This is actually one area where I don't mind the French way of doing things.  As usual, the French take excellent care of their people.  I left the hospital with a gajillion prescriptions.  Vitamin supplements, pain relief, abdominal belt, and requests for preventative care, all fully reimbursable bien sûr.  Every day, for 8 days after I left the hospital, a nurse came to our apartment to give me a shot of anti-coagulation medicine.  Kind of weird right?  And then another nurse came by twice in the following 10 days to draw blood for analysis.  It all seemed a little extreme, but it was nice to know that my health was being closely monitored following a major surgery, and it was even nicer that I didn't have to leave my home to receive this care.

feeling much better, relaxing in my own house

Finally, here are a few fun facts about hospitals in France: - French hospital food is no better than American hospital food.  In fact, maybe it's worse.  I don't think I ate a single thing from the hospital the entire time I was there.  Wait, I take that back.  I ate the apple sauce they gave me everyday.  That was it.  I actually felt terrible each time the staff would come in to take away yet another full tray of food from the snobby American.  But it was just so gross!  I mean, look at this.  It looks like someone vomited on a flip flop.

Do you want to eat a zucchini stuffed with hamburger meat and covered in sauce?  I don't think so. - As usual, you must carry your baby's medical records.  Just add this to my suitcase full of maternity paperwork I had to lug around to every appointment.  Now not only do I have a fat binder full of my own medical records, now we have a booklet full of Ramona's information too.  I'm actually glad for this as it will probably be useful when we move back to the U.S., but it's just so funny to me that the only place where all of our medical information is housed is on the top shelf of my bedroom closet.  Haven't these people heard of a computer? - Birth photographers are alive and well.  I always thought that birth photographers - you know, the ones lurking the halls of the maternity ward coercing vulnerable new parents into spending money on professional pictures of their scrunchy-faced newborns - were an American thing.  Nope.  They're in France too. In hindsight, this is actually one of my favorite stories to tell about our stay.  The poor, unsuspecting birth photographer stopped by our room right in the middle of the no-milk-should-we-use-formula-hysterical-crying shitshow.  I was bawling, Ramona was screaming, Michael was trying to console us and here comes this woman just strolling into our room unannounced asking if we want her to take some pictures.  I'm thinking, lady, are you serious? Does it look like we want to be photographed right now?!  We said NO, this is not a good time.  She hung around our room calling out, "Oh!  Dommage!  No pictures of Ramona?!"  I looked at her all wild-eyed and crazy screaming, "GET THE F&#$ OUT OF MY ROOM!!!!!!!!!"  I hope she didn't speak English.    So all in all, I would say we had a pleasant experience at the clinic, albeit strange and combative at times.  It's nice to be home and making our own daily decisions without having to defend them.  Ramona may have been born in France, but she'll be raised as an American girl, through and through.

À bientôt!

17 Responses to “Postpartum, The French Way”

  1. Kara says:

    Crazy…. I can’t believe how long your stay was. I just ha a csection and the max stay is 4 days. I took full advantage of that. I didn’t want to leave the hospital and face reality of having two kids under 17months haha. Your food looked horrible. The food at the hospital wasn’t great but I was able to eat it. I am glad your milk came in and the heartache ended. Being a new mom, having a csection, breastfeeding in a different country has to be hard. Just keep doing what you are doing. Ramona is beautiful and so lucky to have you as a mom.

  2. Jennifer Isabelle says:

    Hey Natalie ! I really enjoyed reading your article and I’m sorry that some parts of your stay in the hospital have been hard to live. The language barrier must have been one of the toughest thing you had to go through and also all of these cultural differences… Don’t take it personnally : The nurses had to behave this way because they are supposed to “investigate” on you to see if you can take care of the child properly. Often some parents barely know how to take care of a baby and they have to teach them everything. The nurses even make a report to certify that you are ready to get back home with the baby. I assume they’ve seen so many horribe things in their carrier that they consider every new parents as “dummies”. :-) So they didn’t treat you this way “only” because you are Americans lol. PS : I speak in the name of my people : we have no excuse for the food you were served in that clinic ! Hope to see you soon in Montpellier or Toulouse.

    • Natalie says:

      Haha, yes I should have also mentioned that some of the nurses were wonderful and kind and really very helpful. But there were a few that definitely thought we were weird, no matter where we came from!

      I couldn’t believe how bad the food was! I was expecting some warm croissants and steak tartare ;)

      Hope to see you soon and introduce you to Ramona!

    • http://www./ says:

      what a fun blog you have!my blog is mostly a design blog + a monthly breast cancer reminder to check squeeze your lemons + what’s up with my treatment. it’s nice to read blogs where people expose their personal lives, but i’m too shy to do it myself

    • honestly, you should have known better. i hope you've learnt your lesson. pack fully before you go to sleep next time when you are out flying as an air stewardess.

    • Sæll Arngrímur. Ég ætla bara að segja að þessi ferð hafi bara tekist vel. Mér fannst leðinlegt að þú komst ekki . Ég veit að það er voðalega mikið að gera hjá þér enn mig lágar samt að hitta þig meira vonandi skylur þú það. Alla reyndu að vera í sambandi við . Því ég get ekki hryngt í þig það er bara ókungir sem svara alltaf.Vonandi hefur þú skemmt þér vel í partýunum.

    • vegas world says:

      Siii yo batalle aier para subir mi entrada en blogg… pff al final no supe que hise y todo el rollo que habia puesto pues no se pudo y solo subi algo rapido y la foto… que bien se siente regresar a hacer scrap…saludos chikas

  3. Erin says:

    Congratulations on Ramona! I love her name and her cheeks.

    In the US they make you get up and walk 12 hours after your c/s. I’ve always thought that was rather cruel! And I think recovering in the hospital is so much easier than at home (the adjustable bed is a lifesaver!).

    Oh and I think in the US they call the formula straw thing SNS. Such a fabulous idea! I hope the nursing is getting easier.

    • Natalie says:

      Thank you Erin! I agree – the adjustable bed was amazing. It’s the one part of the hospital that I miss. It made nursing so much easier!

      Congratulations to you and your family too! Gus is adorable. I hope you all are doing well and you are recovering quickly!

  4. Hollie says:

    I enjoyed reading this! I also just had a baby and went into it with strong feelings about a no-intervention birth and doing everything naturally. Then my baby flipped breech at week 41 and the game changed – I had a c that day with little time to recalibrate my feelings. Kudos to you for navigating the feeding challenge in addition to the swaddling, bathing, and photographer run-ins (we also skipped the photographs as the photographer came in during a meltdown…then returned, still melting down…then one more try…it ended much like your experience…) Though the contentious issues were slightly different, our experiences were similar – I will forever remember it with immense joy and just a hint of annoyance. :) congratulations on beautiful Ramona and cheers to feeding going smoothly. Can’t wait to read more stories!

    • Natalie says:

      Congratulations to you too, Hollie! That is crazy that your baby flipped at the last minute! I hope you are recovering quickly from the c-section – it’s been hard for me to deal with physically and emotionally even though I had plenty of time to mentally prepare.

      Also – your photographer had a lot of nerve to return multiple times!!

  5. Kaitlin O says:

    OMG I was just dying reading this. Good job you did it! And man those stories will stay with you forever. I love how I can hear your voice through your writing – your so talented! Congrats lovie miss you all the time and I can’t wait to meet her one day!

  6. Sabbio says:

    Oh so fun and infuriating in the same time to read this. Infuriating because of french hospital system and attitude. I m so grateful i gave birth twice at home!

    But I m so happy for you, reading how you stood up for what you thought was best for you and Ramona plus I agree on all aspects with you especially the bath issues and the layers. And I too use often white noise to work but I think it s not that well-known in France.
    Sorry I couldn’t drop by last week but too busy. But I can t wait to see you. Oh and I wasn’t sure you had my latest mail on fb so I thought you might have been overloaded too.

  7. Anastasia says:

    I don’t know what the nurses were calling the System Dahl but I think in the USA it’s just referred to as finger feeding.
    BTW, I love your blog. Just found it.

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